A Christmas Eve tradition in Skagway turns 80

Santa and some elves during 2020’s drive-by Christmas Eve event. (Photo courtesy of the Skagway Eagles Club)

There’s a Christmas tradition in Skagway that’s been happening every year since World War II. It’s a show put on by a local charity that showcases music, elves, Santa and Mrs. Claus and a present for every kid that wants one.

On Christmas Eve in 1941, the Eagles Club in Skagway put on its first Christmas Eve pageant. It was a way for the town’s kids to celebrate with Santa Claus and spread holiday cheer. The Eagles Club, an international fraternal order dedicated to charity, has kept the show going ever since, and this Christmas Eve will mark its 80th year.

Chair of the club’s Christmas committee Kaylynn Howard says this year’s show will start off with magician and musician Andrew Nadon.

“He’s going to do a little Christmas magic for the kids, lead us in one to two Christmas songs. And then Mrs. Claus will also read the story to the kids,” Howard said. “So they, all the kids are invited to sit around the stage around her and listen to a storytime. And then one of the biggest traditions that we’ve continued is — even though the music and the story will change every year — the one consistent is everybody then after storytime sings, ‘Here comes Santa Clause’ together as Santa arrives on stage.”

Santa will then hand out gifts that he, Mrs. Claus and the elves hand-wrapped for each child in attendance.

Howard says the show has changed a bit over the years. It used to be called the “Christmas Eve Pageant,” now it’s called the “Christmas Eve Show.” Organizers changed that a few years ago because there are no judges.

Then during the height of the pandemic in 2020, they had to get creative to find a way to spread joy and not COVID-19.

“Our first COVID Christmas it was drive-by only,” Howard said.

Santa and his elves were standing outside on Broadway as families drove up and got their presents through the car window. There was also a compilation of videos the club put together full of holiday songs from local artists.

Howard says the committee agreed that the steps the community has taken to reduce the risks of contracting the virus have allowed the club to do the show in person again this year.

In addition to magic and songs, there will be a couple of drawings at this year’s event. There’s a Shop In Skagway program that’s been running all month in town and people have put their names in for a grand prize that will be announced on stage. There will also be a drawing for the winner of the Nancy Schave Memorial Doll Raffle.

Howard says the raffle is a fundraiser for a scholarship award that’s given to a local student.

“For many years, the Nancy Schave Memorial Doll Raffle was a $500 scholarship awarded to a graduating senior. Now, two years ago, we were actually able to raise enough money through the doll ticket sales that we upped the scholarship to a $1,000 scholarship for a local graduating senior,” Howard said.

She says the $2 tickets go on sale between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve each year.

“We put all of those names into a bowl and we draw those and the winner gets this American Girl doll with three outfits, a keepsake box and a very beautiful dress that is modeled after a locals’ wedding dress. And that’s all sewn and donated by Jeanne Worley, and she picks the bride every year, a local, and she picks their dress to replicate,” Howard said.

Jeanne Worley is a local tailor who has been making the doll’s wedding dresses for over 40 years.

In Skagway, the unexpected is usually entertaining. A few years ago Santa Claus had his pants fall down at the beginning of the show, and now there are several sets of suspenders at the ready. And, as one of the show’s organizer’s Cat Stewart recalls, another year, one of the elves’ dogs got loose.

“Children got their faces licked. And it was adorable, even though it was very naughty,” said Stewart.

This year show organizers expect around 75 children to attend.

The doors to the Eagles Theatre on Broadway Street in Skagway will open at 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and the show starts at 7 p.m. Usually, it runs for about an hour.

The event is open to the public and geared towards local families with newborns through fourth graders.

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